#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving which takes place after the festive retail frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Originally from the US, the event now takes place in over 70 countries around the world including Canada, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Australia, Tanzania, Russia, Ireland and the UK. In 2015 it received a Guinness World Record for the most money donated online in 24 hours with more than £6,000 given to charity every minute. Celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Lily Allen and Gary Lineker, backed the campaign and it was the top trend on Twitter throughout the day.
The campaign is not just about raising money for charities. It can be about supporting good causes in other ways such as offering to volunteer or raise awareness. In fact, the theme in the UK for 2016 is simply to 'Do Good Stuff' for other people.
But what happens when the fuss around the day has died down, after the tweets have been sent, when the raffle has been drawn and the cakes sold? What does #GivingTuesday actually mean?
In 2015 nine local businesses in Milton Keynes took part in the #GivingTuesday cup, competing in a series of challenges demonstrating sporting prowess and raising over £5,000 for the Milton Keynes Community Foundation's Surviving Winter Appeal. MK Community Foundation is a local grant giving charity supporting charities and community groups in Milton Keynes.
The money raised was awarded to The Winter Night Shelter which runs a much-needed service for homeless people and those sleeping rough in Milton Keynes. The scheme runs from 1 December to 15 March and its mission is to "save people from the risk of death in the coldest months of the year".
People who use the service are known as guests. They arrive each day at 17.30, have a tea or coffee, and receive an initial assessment. Following this they are taken in a minibus to one of the seven temporary overnight shelters in church and community buildings around Milton Keynes. There are different venues for each night of the week staffed by 450 volunteers. When the guests arrive they receive a hot meal, some sort of entertainment such as a game of pool, a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning.
I spoke to Richard, one of the managers of the Shelter, about the services they provide and the people who use them.
"We had a 59 year old man who came to The Winter Night Shelter, he had been living in a tent and relying on free services, such as Soup Run, to get through the warmer months. He was extremely isolated from other people, had no healthcare and no documents to prove his identity. The Winter Night Shelter was able to help him obtain identification, access support for his mental health and find long-term accommodation. Since then he has also been supported by a volunteer.
"We've noticed a shift in people coming to the Shelter. There are many more people who are in employment and have perhaps gone through a relationship breakdown. There are also more women. Local housing is very stretched and the demand for affordable long-term accommodation has gone through the roof. Fortunately, with help from #givingtuesday, the Winter Night Shelter has been able to support most of the people who go through its service."
In 2016 the Milton Keynes Community Foundation's #GivingTuesday campaign will raise funds and awareness of the 1 in 5 children in the city who are living below the poverty line. We will support charities like Make Lunch MK which provides a free hot meal for children and their families during the school holidays. The wellbeing of a child during their early years has a significant impact on their long-term education, job prospects and health. With Milton Keynes thriving we believe it is important to do all we can to ensure our most vulnerable children are not left behind.
So, when you see the hype around #GivingTuesday, when a friend asks you to sponsor them, when the hashtag trends on Twitter or when you see someone raising awareness on Facebook, remember that underneath this global movement are organisations benefiting hugely from this day of giving. And those organisations, large and small, are working day in day out in local communities doing 'good stuff' for those who need it most.